Have Coin, Will Travel

When I was a kid my grandma worked at our family bakery in San Francisco. Every Christmas she’d send me a jelly jar filled with foreign coins she had rescued from the till. I’d study my encyclopedia and geek out on the strange countries stamped in colorful metals of various shapes. Some depicted kings and queens, revolutionaries and dictators. Others showed fantastic animals, images of deities, plants and foreign script. Big ones fit snug in my hand and made me want to skip them across a pond, while some of the small ones were light enough to float in a cup of still water. Sometimes I’d spin my sister’s globe saying, “One day I’m gonna go…,” then stop it with an abrupt poke of my finger, announcing, “…here!” Then I’d look to see if I had a coin from there. Each coin made my world bigger and I was fascinated by their journey into my life. I’d put their metal to my lips and breathe in the smell of a thousand fingers.

My coins were breadcrumbs towards my adult obsession with travel. It is this excitement for something foreign and new that drives my passion to move around the world. I’m most alive when I am in a place for which I have no precedent. Where I’m vulnerable and on a sensual high-alert and have no understanding of the language or culture. Where my only common thread of life is that I too am living it. I am my most genuine, true self when I go to these places — which is exactly why I keep on going.

On Friday I am taking off for Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon, in this case, is merely an entry point for a bigger trip south. Maybe I’ll spend two days in Portugal, but ultimately I want to bolt to the Strait of Gibraltar and ferry across the Mediterranean Sea to Morocco, where I’ll stay for four weeks or so.

Often folks ask me, why Morocco? Is it safe? Has ebola hit there yet? Am I afraid to go to an Arabic-speaking country? Such questions, in my opinion, are more of a projection of their fears rather than a true inquiry, so I keep my answers generic. Fact is, I’m pretty much a fan of traveling anywhere I’ve not yet been, but this answer tends to be too ambiguous for most. Folks want to know if I am traveling with a group? Where will I stay? Am I bringing a cell phone? I suppose that not having an answer (or not having the “right” answer) to many of these questions is part of what makes it all so appealing. If I knew ahead of time how everything would shake out, or if I stayed connected to my normal life, the trip would be predictable and boring. I like adventures. And they are best when I am disconnected from the comforts and habits of home.

What I do know is that I’m excited for that ferry ride. I know I am looking forward to hearing Darija, the variety of French-blended Arabic spoken in Morocco. Shoot, I may even take a language course. I know that I want to learn more about goat-herders in the Atlas Mountains and maybe even WWOOF on an olive farm in the foothills. Maybe I’ll take buses, maybe I’ll rent a mountain bike. Who knows? I’m game to the idea of letting the trip move me as it chooses. Such a lifestyle I’ve been practicing at home, but for some reason it seems easier pull off while far away.

I am sure when I return I’ll have some great stories to tell. And odds are I’ll share them on my blog. And though it’s illegal, I plan to bring back a few gorgeous dirham coins. Though Gram sent me thousands of coins over the years, surprisingly no Moroccan money ever made it into the holiday treasure jar. I can’t wait to hold some in my hand.


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